Man facing assault charge after water poured on Winnipeg police chief at Folklorama

A 22-year-old man accused of dumping a pitcher of water on Winnipeg’s police chief Monday night at a community event is facing a charge of assaulting a peace officer, police said Wednesday.

It happened at Folklorama’s Japanese pavilion while Danny Smyth, the city’s top cop, was representing the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) at the event.

Les Kojima, the pavilion’s coordinator, said it occurred as guests enjoyed a drum performance taking place on the stage while Smyth was seated in uniform at a VIP table with other guests.

“We gave him a towel and he just dried himself as best he could and it was only water thankfully but it was an assault,” Kojima said. “He wasn’t angry about it or really upset.”

Kojima said a man ran out of the pavilion with guests and volunteers chasing him down before he was apprehended by two retired police officers working security.

“He was just one of the guests but apparently it wasn’t enough for him and he was here for something a little more than the show,” Kojima said. “I have no idea what he was trying to say.”

Winnipeg police confirmed the incident. Officers said in a statement Smyth, who was not made available for an interview, was representing the WPS at Folklorama. It’s a long-standing festival in Winnipeg celebrating ethnocultural communities which often welcomes dignitaries including politicians and public figures like Smyth.

Officers said a man, 22, is now facing a charge of assaulting a peace officer, which criminal defence lawyer Michael Dyck isn’t surprised about even though the police chief wasn’t seriously hurt.

“An assault always has these three elements: there has to be contact, either direct or indirect, there has to be a lack of consent so obviously the police chief wasn’t asking someone to come dump a pitcher of water on his head,” Dyck said. “And then there has to be some element of harm … above a very small amount of harm.”

Brandon Trask, an assistant professor of law at University of Manitoba law and a former prosecutor, agrees. But he said the Crown will have to determine if it’s in the public interest to proceed with prosecution and whether the charge of assaulting a peace officer is the appropriate offence.

“The Crown could still decide to proceed on the assault aspect of this but I think it’s a live question whether a police chief attending an event like this is executing his duty,” Trask said.

Markus Chambers, a city councillor who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board, said Smyth informed him of the incident. Chambers said regardless of the outcome of any criminal case, he’s concerned about increased hostility towards politicians and public servants.

“Incidents like this cannot occur,” Chambers said. “Assaulting somebody while they’re out, whether it’s doing their job or evening out with their family members is not the way to go.”

Legal experts said prosecutors may want to send a message this kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated.

Kojima hopes it never happens again.

“He was at a community event and he was travelling with the president of Folklorama in the president’s tour and it was an official event for him,” Kojima said. “It’s just really unfortunate that it happened in the Japanese pavilion.”

He said while organizers feel awful this happened, they remain confident in their security plan and don’t feel any changes are needed because this is the first time an incident like this has happened since they started participating in the festival 51 years ago.

Folklorama isn’t commenting on the incident but in a statement, a spokesperson for the festival said the health and safety of guests and volunteers is its number one priority. In addition to working with police, Folklorama said pavilions have access to additional security. 

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